History and culture of Belarus

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History (A brief survey)

Ancient stands of people on the territory of Belarus already existed 25 thousand years ago. In the 6th-8th centuries Slavonic tribes living between the Elbe and the Vistula began to settle to the South and the East, as well as on the territory of Belarus where they assimilated gradually the majority of local Baltic tribes. The most ancient city in Belarus is Polotsk known since 862. By the end of the 10th century two principalities had been known - Polotsk and Turov Principalities which were probably dependent on the Kiev prince.

In 1230th the Grand Duchy of Lithuania with the center in Novogrudok (between Minsk and Grodno) emerged on the territory of Belarus, During the next hundred years a greater part of contemporary Belarus was incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Vilnius became its capital in the 14th century. In the result of the subsequent growth in the end of the 14th century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania became one among the largest multinational European states the borders of which were stretching beyond Smolensk in the East, and up to the Black Sea in the South. In 1410 in the battle at Grunvald the troops of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Poland inflicted a defeat to the crusaders of the Teutonic Order that allowed to secure the northwestern borders. The Crimean Khanet and the Moscow Principality were the main threat to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, In the struggle with the Crimean Khanet the Grand Duchy of Lithuania gradually lost a number of its provinces in the South, and only in 1527, after the victory at Kanev (the Ukraine), the advancement of Tartars to the North was stopped. The relations between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Moscow Principality in the 14th-16th centuries were often hostile. In the first years of the Livon War (1558-1583) the Moscow Principality was enjoying a military success. As a result, it occupied Polotsk and its vicinity. The attempts of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to return Polotsk with its own forces did not succeed and in 1569 the Grand Duchy of Lithuania united with the Polish Kingdom into a federation - Rzech Pospolita. In 1583, the joined forces of Rzech Pospolita won back from Moscow the lost territories; thus the Livon War ceased.

It should be noted, that the name of the common state of the ancestors of modem Belarusians and Lithuanians - the Grand Duchy of Lithuania - does not so much reflect the ethnic entity, but rather the ancient name of the place - Lithuania. Despite the fact that Belarusians had already been formed as an ethnic entity by the 13th-14th centuries, different parts of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and of modern Belarus had different names in different times. For example, in the early 17th century Lithuania was the name of the area including Novogrudok, Grodno, Minsk, Vilnius, Brest, Braslav; Polesye - the Southern part of the modern Belarus with the cities of Pinsk, Mozyr; Belaya Rus was the Eastern part of the modern Belarus with the cities of Polotsk, Vitebsk, Orsha, Mogilev; Zhemaitiya - the major part of today's Lithuania. Accordingly, the ancestors of the modern Belarusians called themselves "Litvins" or "Litvins-Belarustsi". The name "Belarus" for the whole territory of the modern Belarus spread only in the second half of the 19th century. The name "Lithuania" moved to the NorthWest and was applied to the territory inhabited with the Baltic people. Belarusians predominated among the population of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and Belarusian was the state language. The famous Statute (The Constitution) of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (1568) - one of the progressive constitutions of the medieval Europe - was written in Belarusian.

After the unification of 1569 with the Polish Kingdom into Rzech Pospolita, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania retained its name, internal government, judicial organs, army and money. However, in the course of time, the role of Poland in Rzech Pospolita was gradually growing. The policy of Belarusians' polonizalion, especially of the Belarusian gentry, was launched. Bloodshedding wars on the territory of Belarus, particularly the wars between Rzech Pospolita and Moscow Principality in 1654-1667 and the North War led by Russia, Rzech Pospolita and Denmark against Sweden in 1700-1721, resulted in numerous victims and destruction and weakened essentially Rzech Pospolita, This weakness was made use of by the governments of the three neighboring states. Prussia, Austria and Russia made three partitions of Rzech Pospolita in 1772, 1793 and 1795.

As a result, the territory of Belarus was incorporated into the Russian Empire. The Russian system of government was emposed and gradually measures aimed at russification of Belarus started to be exercised. Only Russian officials were appointed into local administrative organs. The Tsar's edict of 1840 prohibited the use of the words "Belarus", "Lithuania"; instead, the name "North-Western Krai (region)" was introduced. The national-liberation uprising of 1863-1864 was cruelly suppressed by Tsarist troops. The World War I begun in 1914 weakened Russia essentially and gave way to the victory of Bolshevik Revolution in Petrograd, October 1917. On March 3,1918 the Russian government signed a peace treaty in the city of Brest without representatives of the Belarusian people being present. According to it, the major part of the territory of Belarus became the subject of annexation by Germany. Earlier, on February 19,1918 the Red Army had left Minsk. All the power was vested on Executive Committee of AII-Belarusian Congress. On February, 21 the first Charter of Regulations was adopted, on March, 9 - the second version, on March, 25 - the third one, proclaiming a creation of an independent Belarusian People's Republic (BPR), The independence of Belarus was juridically acknowledged by the Ukraine, Lithuania and actually by Turkey, Finland and Russia. Germany did not acknowledge BPR because it contradicted to the Brest treaty. At the same time, the German occupation authorities did not hamper in BPR's government solving numerous political, cultural and economic issues. After the November Revolution of 1918 in Germany, the Russian Soviet government denounced the Brest Treaty, and by December 1918 the Red Army occupied most of Belarus. As a counterbalance to BPR, on January 1, 1919 the bolsheviks proclaimed the foundation of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic, thus the Soviet power was established. Belarus became one of the founders of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics which was founded on December 30, 1922.

During Worfd War II the territory of Belarus was an arena of hard-fought battles. From June, 1941 till July, 1944 Belarus was occupied by the Nazi Germany troops. The occupation regime was notable for its cruelty. During the war the fascists killed 2,200 thousand people in Belarus - more than a quarter of the population.

On December 8, 1991 in Viskuli (Brest Oblast) the leaders of the republics-founders of the USSR, i.e. Belarus, Russia and the Ukraine - made a decision of dissolution of the USSR and foundation of a Commonwealth of Independent States. Minsk was chosen the CIS administrative center. The Republic of Belarus became an independent state.


Many achievements of the Belarusian culture serve the symbols of the national originality. The Cross of Euphrosyne of Polotsk, artistic works by Mark Chagall and Siutsk belts are the evidence of Belarus' contribution into the world's culture.

Euphrosyne of Polotsk, Kirill Turovsky, the thinker and first printer of the Bible in Bela-rusian Frantsysk Skorina, poets Nikolai Gusovsky and Simeon Polotsky are the most outstanding Belarusi-an enlighteners.

The classics of the Belarusian litera-ture was created by Vincent Dunin-Mar-tsinkevich, Frantishek Bogushevich, Aloisa Pashkevich, Maxim Bogdanovich, Yanka Kupala and Yakub Kolas. The works of famous Belarusian sculptors Z,Azgur, A,Bembel, A.GIebov, the prose and poetry of well - known Belarusian writers and poets V.Korotkevich, V.Bykov, A.Adamovich, N.Gilevich are the most prominent among the latest achievements.

There are more than 5,000 libraries, over 3300 cinemas, more than 150 museums in different cities and villages of Belarus. More than 500 state-owned and private newspapers, more than 300 magazines are published in the country. There are 24 professional theatres, including the Bela-rusian ballet - one of the best in the former USSR.